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The Future We Want

by Michael Garrity of American Rivers and Lisa Pelly of Trout Unlimited

Cle Elum headwaters

The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan is a big deal. For farmers and river flows, certainly, ensuring water reliability as the climate warms and snowpack shrinks and as what’s left of it melts

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off sooner. For fish, definitely, bringing back what may be the largest sockeye run outside of Canada and Alaska. And for families, without a doubt, the wild places that we love so well will be enjoyed and protected by future

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Both of us have explored, hiked, camped, bird watched, rafted and fished the rivers and streams of the upper Yakima basin for most of our lives. We’ve also put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the negotiations that will, we hope, bring the YBIP to fruition. So today, as the prospects for an initial round of funding look good, what really gets us excited is imaging the upper Yakima Basin ten years from today, when the plan is well underway.

Upper Cle Elum Sockeye

In the beautiful Cooper and Waptus river watersheds, we have spent hours watching sockeye salmon spawning for the first time in nearly a century. With permanent fish passage constructed at the Cle Elum dam, we’ll be seeing a lot more of them making their way back to high valleys of the north central Cascades. We’ll also see happier, fatter trout in those rivers, and both of us are looking forward to hooking them on a fly. And its not just a fish story – salmon will serve as food for other fish and wildlife. Spawning salmon will help trees and forests grow stronger, taller and older as the fish bring fresh nutrients up river again.

Then there’s the crown jewel – the

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Teanaway Valley – the largest single public land acquisition in 45 years in Washington, that the YBIP will make possible. Wolves and wolverines have already returned, but the restoration of a robust salmon run and restored meadows and floodplains will create a wilder ecosystem there than has been seen in decades, if not a century. Instead of worrying about future development there, we’ll be able to camp, hike and fish to our hearts’ content.

The YBIP’s benefits are profound, and will stretch from the Cascades to the Columbia – we’ve only mentioned few here, focusing just on the upper Yakima. We both feel very blessed to be part of helping to shape a more sustainable Yakima Basin in the coming years, and are looking forward to many more adventures up and down its rivers and streams.

Garrity is the Washington State Conservation Director for American Rivers. Pelly is the Director of the Washington Water Project for Trout Unlimited.



Water woes create strange bedfellows


Naches River - Thomas O'Keefe

Steve Malloch of National Wildlife Federation and Michael Garrity of American Rivers recently wrote an article on the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan for the December 2012 issue of The Water Report, a monthly newsletter for water lawyers, engineers, regulatory agencies, tribes, municipalities, environmental organizations, and anyone interested in water law, water rights, and water quality in the western U.S.

Learn all the in’s and out’s of water policy  in the Yakima Basin and in the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.

A snippet:

As with almost every major river basin in the American West, the Yakima River Basin (Basin) has a history of instituting ambitious water schemes in pursuit of economic development. As is also all too typical, this development came with many initially unconsidered costs: environmental degradation; long-ignored but resurgent tribal treaty rights; litigation; and, most recently, concern — even in this reliably conservative river basin — about an increasingly uncertain climate future.

In an effort to go beyond the decades of water confl icts spawned by this history, the Basin is now also home to another ambitious plan — the Yakima Basin Integrated Water
Resources Management Plan (Yakima Plan) — designed to secure a healthy future for the Basin’s fi sh, farms, forests, and families. The Yakima Plan is the result of an array of
interests in the Basin recognizing that digging entrenched positions still deeper is unlikely to result in a satisfactory resolution for anyone.

The Yakima River is located on the arid east side of Washington state, nestled between the Cascade Mountain crest and the Columbia River.


The Return of Sockeye

See the sockeye returning to spawn in the Cle Elum River!

When: October-November 2012
Where: Cle Elum River, WA

Sockeye are spawning as a result of Yakama Nation reintroduction to Lake Cle Elum. 10,000 adult sockeye were transported from Priest Rapids dam in July and are spawning above Lake Cle Elum. Yakama Nation is in its fourth year of reintroducing sockeye, monitoring populations, and developing strategies to maintain the Yakima Basin

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Local sockeye salmon populations were eradicated decades ago by dam development that blocked adult sockeye access to lakes. Yakama tribal elders describe the value of kálux (sockeye) to the people as a winter sustenance food to carry people until new spring food arrives. Historically, at least 200,000 sockeye would annually return to four lakes in the Yakima Basin. Returning

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sockeye to harvestable numbers requires ongoing studies and partnerships to obtain permanent fish passage.

Partners for permanent fish passage through a Yakima Basin Plan include: Bureau of Reclamation, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, NOAA, USF&WS, U.S. Forest Service, Yakima and Kittitas Counties, irrigation districts, and conservation groups.

Would you like to see sockeye spawning?

Click here to get directions to one of the best viewing spots on a map. Known as “Bridge to Cooper Lake,” by the locals, this spot is along the Cle

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Elum River. Formally listed on maps as NF-46.

* Please do not disturb the fish and stay out of the water.

Click here to see a flyer version of this blog.

Many thanks to Yakama Nation for providing content for this blog.


Hiking and floating in the Teanaway

By Michael Garrity, American Rivers

One of my goals this summer was to get to know the Teanaway River watershed in the upper Yakima Basin a bit better. I have backpacked extensively in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness headwaters of the Cle Elum drainage, including the Waptus, Cooper, and Cle Elum rivers, since I was a little kid. Yet aside from a little bit of trout fishing, a little bit of hiking and a lot of driving on Highway 97 to visit my folks in Wenatchee, I hadn’t been in the Teanaway much.

I’m happy to report that I’ve gotten out in the Teanaway for four different day trips this summer – two hikes, a fly over and a kayak float, with hopefully more to come. These trips confirmed my impressions of the Teanaway from the little bit of exploration I’d already done and what I’d heard from friends and colleagues – it’s a vast, beautiful and unique landscape that is teetering precariously between restoration and unsustainable development.

On my hikes to Esmerelda/Esmeralda Basin (the maps and hiking guides can’t

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seem to agree on the spelling) and Navaho Pass, much of which is recommended for wilderness designation by the Forest Service and is being considered for wilderness in the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, I was struck by three things:

  1. This was an even bigger snow year than I thought – even on the east slope of the Cascades – lots of snow and lots of runoff that is just now melting/slowing down;
  2. The Teanaway country’s stark beauty, made a bit less stark by all the wildflowers and some surprisingly big, old Douglas firs growing at atypically high elevations; and
  3. The vastness of the landscape. It’s bigger than I imagined, which I suppose is one reason why it’s such great elk and wolf habitat.

Between the two hikes, I floated the lower Teanaway River on inflatable kayaks with Cynthia Wilkerson of The Wilderness Society and Jill Wasberg of American Rivers.

I was struck by the relatively small amount of water in the Teanaway even in this big water year. Given the rushing streams in the headwaters, one would expect more. In addition to highlighting the need for more water conservation on local farms, which the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan will help fund, this shows the need for a couple of actions that would be made possible by buying private Teanaway land bordering the river – protecting existing flows and restoring the river and its floodplain.

Protecting the flows and restoring the surrounding land will only help the salmon and steelhead that live in these waters thrive. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries department, the Teanaway River watershed may be the most critical place to restore steelhead in the entire Yakima Basin, and restoring steelhead there would be a big contributor to the recovery of the entire mid-Columbia steelhead population.

In other words, the future of the Teanaway is in many ways the future of the rest of the Yakima Basin – either we save it and restore it now or the opportunity will pass us by.


I blame it on the neighbors! Snowmobiling in the Teanaway Valley

By Tracy Rooney

Hiking, biking, lift assisted and backcountry skiing are very familiar recreation activities for me. But snowmobiles? I kept saying I wasn’t a motorhead. I thought they were somewhat noisy and stinky. Not so much now — but certainly ten years ago before the riders’ desires for less intrusive snow machines made their wishes known. Hey, the snowmobile manufactures knew what was good for business, so they figured it out too. Less stink, less noise. It

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was no longer just about the adrenaline of horsepower but a broader form of winter recreation that could be shared by young and old alike.

Anyway, being a weekender in a valley that seemed like ground zero for snowmobiling and with my desire to get to know my neighbors better, I bought some used snowmobiles. It’s a ten year old decision that makes me grin every time I think about it.

As a newbie, I knew that I needed to get some “ride time” in before adventuring out with my then seven- and nine-year-old kids and somewhat skeptical wife. The neighbors were only happy to oblige and off I went. I had covered a lot of the local territory by foot and bike, but knew that winter conditions would be more challenging and unforgiving. What I hadn’t thought about was the distances that could be covered in a relatively short amount of time with snow blanketing the ground. It soon became clear to me that my list of favorite valley viewpoints was about to expand! I also quickly found out that snowmobiling wasn’t a sit down, passive sport. Just like in skiing, new skills would be required to get from point a to b. If you got your snowmobile stuck, it wasn’t as easy as just flopping over and pointing down the hill like you do when downhill skiing. But it was all good fun!

The extensive network of groomed logging roads in the valley is impressive. These well-defined trails made “doubling up” on each sled with a kid a great way to explore and build up confidence to check out new trails and vistas. Soon my garage seemed to have shrunk as we each had our own snowmobile and an expanded winter play area. While the colors of fall are hard to beat, the stark winter landscapes are even better.

At first reluctant to get involved in snowmobiling, I’m now one of the valley’s biggest enthusiasts. My initial concern regarding snowmobile interference with wildlife has been replaced with awe as I check out the tracks of the many animals that move around the valley in the winter via the groomed trail system. Having seen the combination of deer, elk, coyote, rabbit and now even wolf tracks on a trail is truly an amazing sight!

I’m also more relaxed with the knowledge that snowmobiling does not have to be in conflict with skiing and snowshoeing. It’s an awfully big valley. In our North Fork neighborhood the snowmobilers are often called upon to “break trail” for others who prefer the non-mechanized form of winter transport. And we gladly do so!

As a family, we all look forward to those annual sunny Teanaway holiday snow outings and the view of the Stuarts from Teanaway Butte, Red Top and other local landmarks. And as a neighborhood activity, I’ve been rewarded with a common bond that has led to a lifetime of close Teanaway friendships.

Snowmobiling has become a shared neighborhood activity. In the fall we gather to “brush out” trails. Once snow has fallen, and the risk of errant vehicles on the closed logging roads has passed, we get the gates unlocked and opened for winter fun. It’s truly an activity that spans generations. While he’s an anomaly, one of my riding buddies is in his late eighties!

The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan presents a rare opportunity for elected officials, recreational enthusiasts and conservationists to seek out common ground. Yes, as a snowmobiler and mountain biker, I’m reluctant to see thousands of acres of riding area closed by an expanded wilderness area. But as a realist, I’m very enthused with the prospect of also having what is currently more than 46 thousand acres of private timberlands removed from the prospect of residential development and forever protected for recreational use, expanded habit areas and continued use as a “community forest” with sound logging and grazing practices. It sounds like a fair trade off for “no access, private property” signs being something that my children and their children will not have to encounter in our extensive Teanaway backyard!

It’s all about finding common ground, tradeoffs that make sense and working towards goals that will benefit many for generations to come! The Integrated Plan has a lot in it for many. I’m in. I hope you are!

Tracy Rooney is a Teanaway Valley resident and active member of the Teanaway Snowmobile Club. You can view a map of groomed snowmobile trails in the area. Email for more information about the Teanaway Snowmobile Club.

Fish. Families. Farms.
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